The Politics of Apologies

 This morning, NBC had a piece titled, “Trump’s Intelligence Disclosure to Russia: No Apology, Tillerson Says.” 

Now, that I  find interesting. 

What’s interesting is not what Trump said, or what Tillerson said, but the matter of apologizing. Politicians are fiends for demanding apologies. It is a routine response when politicians disagree, as expected as shaking hands to create a visual expression of mutual support. 

In my view, an apology is always a gesture, often an empty gesture, and sometimes a ruse, like a magician waving his right hand around to direct your attention away from his left hand where the trick is going on.  

On the surface, an apology is taken to be an expression of remorse. In politics, however, the act of demanding and producing an apology is a kind of symbolic power struggle, and if the culprit gives the aggrieved an apology it is like yielding, going down one one knee. It is a kind of surrender.  The power-and-submission dimension of apologies becomes more visible when placed in the context of historical dueling, where it became a life-or-death consideration.  But it is also evident in a political context. 

In politics, apologies are seldom requested, most generally they are demanded. Two parties disagree, one wants an admission of fault from the other. If the fault is admitted, there is a presumption (by the Multitude, not necessarily by the reasonable) that the party demanding the apology is the stronger. Submission–the act of submitting an apology– is taken by most as a sign of weakness. 

So in politics, apologizing is like a wrestling match: there are a winner and a loser, and whoever gets his/her way in the matter is presumed to be stronger. A winner, in some tiny, insignificant, petty, way.  

In politics, a demand for an apology almost always fails, so one can ask, why bother? Demanding an apology is also a kind of meta-language: an accusation, and insinuation of guilt.  Demanding an apology accomplishes this, even if the apology isn’t forthcoming. 

Accusing, finger-pointing, blaming, demanding apologies–it seems to me these activities have an inverse correlation with statesmanship and a committment to search for solutions rather than blame.



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